[SOPA Series-Mr Michael Forsythe] "Privilege" and "responsibility" of investigative reporting in China

Doing investigative reporting in China was both a "privilege" for and the "responsibility" of foreign reporters, said Mr Michael Forsythe, Hong Kong correspondent specialised in covering the Communist state for Bloomberg News.

As one of the five award-winning journalists invited to speak at the first-ever forum co-organised by the Society of Publishers in Asia and Hong Kong Baptist University, Mr Forsythe shared his probing experience with dozens of journalism students – most of whom are from mainland China – and encouraged them to set out on such a journey.

The American veteran journalist said he was amazed by the murky country's transparency when it came to bond prospectuses and company filings, which constituted a story-idea powerhouse he had turned to in numerous reports, including the most well-known piece in 2012 that exposed the family wealth of China's then president-in-waiting Mr Xi Jinping. The story won its author a SOPA scoop award.

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When explaining why he could retrieve public documents from official sources like the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) with ease without being denied a journalist visa by the Public Security Bureau (PSB), he joked in Putonghua: "That's because the gongshangju (SAIC) does not talk to gonganju (PSB)."

"If Chinese journalists were allowed to do this, they would have done so much earlier," he said, adding that foreign journalists should treasure their freedom of reporting in China in contrast to their closely controlled Chinese counterparts and pursue such investigative stories.

The expose targeting Mr Xi has thrown Bloomberg's website out to the unharmonious side of the "Great Firewall of China", a tongue-in-cheek name for China's internet censorship and surveillance project that blocks foreign websites the authorities are not happy with.

A similar sanction was given to the New York Times three months later, when its current Shanghai bureau chief Mr David Barboza wrote a Pulitzer-winning piece on the "hidden fortune" traced to family members of former premier Mr Wen Jiabao.

 

Reported by Song Cheng 

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